Philippines says China asked Aquino to scrap visit

Philippines says China asked Aquino to scrap visit

MANILA - Philippine President Benigno Aquino has called off his planned visit to China next week at Beijing's request, Manila said Thursday as the two nations wrangle over maritime disputes.

Aquino had announced only Wednesday that he would make a 12-hour trip to Nanning on September 3 to attend a trade fair and business conference called the China-ASEAN Expo.

"The president has decided not to proceed... taking into consideration China's request for the president to visit China at a more conducive time," foreign affairs spokesman Raul Hernandez said in a statement.

Asked why China made such a request, Hernandez told AFP: "Maybe you can ask China."

The Chinese embassy could not be contacted for comment.

Edwin Lacierda, an Aquino spokesman, had previously stressed the importance of the event at which the Philippines was to be "the country of honour".

Hernandez reiterated Thursday the Philippine position that "bilateral relations can advance despite differences", an apparent reference to the festering dispute over the South China Sea.

China claims virtually all of the sea, up to the coasts of its neighbours like the Philippines. The Philippines has said that China's claim infringes on its own maritime territory.

Tensions between China and other claimants to the sea, particularly the Philippines and Vietnam, have escalated in recent years amid a series of Chinese political and military actions to assert its claims to the waters.

The Philippines earlier this year said it had applied for its dispute with China to be arbitrated under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, a 1982 treaty signed by both countries.

China has rejected the Philippines' call for UN arbitration, insisting on bilateral negotiations with its smaller neighbour.

The annual Nanning exposition, which began in 2004, is intended to strengthen economic ties between China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations of which the Philippines is a member.

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